28 September 2010

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N. Sumatra and breed of religious violence

The increase in religious violence (it should be underscored that the use of any religion by terrorism instead of pursuit of its sacred goals and moral vision, it is too naive to be attributed to one religion only) in Indonesia in general and in North Sumatra in particular is rising.
The latest cases linked to religious violence were the robbery of the CIMB Niaga bank in Medan and the bloody attack on the Hamparan Perak police station in Deli Serdang regency, North Sumatra, on Wednesday morning, where three police officers were killed.

The ruthlessness of the attack has terrified the community in Medan. Why has North Sumatra, often 
described as a good example of inter-religious harmony suddenly become fertile ground for religious violence? There are several reasons why this area became fertile ground for violence.
First, the proximity of North Sumatra with Aceh Province has provided a safe haven for former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) combatants who did not share the fruits of peace between Indonesia and GAM in 2005. Such former rebels feel angry and frustrated having failed to make any gains from the peace process.
It is not surprising that the top leader of the perpetrators of these incidents could easily recruit new members and set up a military training area in Aceh and then move easily to North Sumatra.
Secondly, North Sumatra has a long coastline with minimal naval surveillance. It has perhaps become a safe entry and exit point for the smuggling of weapons or for illegal transit from neighboring countries.Illegal weapons trading in this “gray area” could mean high profits for a few gun runners and “war-entrepreneurs”, who may prove untouchable, as occurs in other conflict hot spots.
Thirdly, to some degree North Sumatra is a miniature replica of a “messy” and failed state. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has declared the governor of North Sumatra, Syamsul Arifin as a corruption  suspect  during his reign as Langkat regent.
Unfortunately, even though he has been a suspect for quite a long time, there is no certainty when he will be brought to court.  
Former Medan mayor, Abdillah has also been punished for corruption. And a new elected mayor of Medan, Rahudman Harahap, acts little and too late to carry out his campaign promises.  
Local media now even accuse him of corruption, collusion and nepotism (KKN) in the recruitment and promotion of senior officials.
The absence of leadership is a big opportunity for the terrorist groups to consolidate their organization and actions. On the other hand, this failed state creates conducive conditions for some of those who might share the same ideology as the terrorists or share their religious links at local, national or international level.
Terrorism is seldom an individual act. When the follower of Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman drove a rented truck into the underground garage of the World Trade Center, then blowing up its lethal cargo, they came as part of a well-orchestrated plan that involved dozens of co-conspirators with thousand of sympathizers in the US, Egypt, Palestine, and elsewhere throughout the world (Juergen Meyer: Terror In The Mind of God, 2000).
The same picture can be seen in the attack on the police station in North Sumatra. The tight-knit nature of the link between those who carry out violence and their followers are illustrated by  the difficulties faced by the police in investigating the attacks carried out by this fundamentalist group.
How we can imagine the leaders and perpetrators of terrorism moving safely around Indonesian cities without a support network provided by their followers?
Therefore we need a strong state leadership. Corruption is another side of the coin and a kind of indirect “terror” inflicted on the people. Leadership rooted in nepotism and corruption is fertile ground to recruit fresh blood into terrorist movements, even to become suicide bombers.
The longstanding frustrations of people with their formal or official leaders may to some degree pave the way for other leaders, making use of religious violence.
This alternative moral vision and religious justification is amplified by deep inequalities and injustices between developed countries and developing countries, between the center (Jakarta) and the periphery (outside Java) and between the rich (haves) and the poor (have nots).
They also see how foreign countries or multinational corporations exploit Indonesia’s resources and riches with the help of our elites.
As long as the fertile ground for the breeding of terrorism is still there, the terrorists will remain free to do whatever they want in our country.
Leadership rooted in nepotism and corruption is fertile ground to recruit fresh blood into terrorist movements ...

Muba Simanihuruk, The writer is a lecturer of Sociology at Sociology Department, North Sumatra University in Medan.
Opini The Jakarta Post 28 September 2010